Trading as Blaqs, Vusa Hlatshwayo (VH), strikes a controversial figure in the Zimbabwean showbiz arena. He is as much revered as he is reviled. Blaqs is among leading videographers in Zimbabwe, looking at the magnitude of his work, having done music videos for an A-list of Zimbabwean artistes from EXQ to Ammara Brown. To some, Blaqs is a creative genius and to others he is an egocentric grandstander. But the numbers do not lie, to use an American colloquialism. He is in a rariefied place so far. His creations have garnered a million-plus views, more than any other videographer in the country. IndependentXtra’s Admire Kudita (AK) interviewed the filmmaker and below are the excerpts:
AK: Blaqs, you are an artist who has both been lauded by critics and slammed by some artistes. What do you find is the reason for that?
VH: I guess my tongue takes no prisoners. That has always been my strength and weakness every time. The truth of the matter is people expect too much. Just because I do nice things it does not mean I am nice. I also have character flaws. I can assure you that every artiste that has “slammed” me for whatever it was, has had an unpleasant exchange with me on a personal level. I am socially awkward because I take my work seriously. I find no pleasure in small talk, hence I usually zone out of conversations and people perceive that as arrogance. I think people forget that it is the art that is on exhibition. Not me. Therefore, whatever is said about me, I examine first. I will also be quick to say perhaps I am also learning how to deal with people. Learning business etiquette and improving efficiency.
AK: You have come a long way. When did your career hit this current trajectory?
VH: While working on an upcoming TV show with Arthur C. Evans I met ExQ and Jah Prayzah in February of 1996 and they were excited about my work. After about six to seven months, ExQ decided to give me a chance and we worked on Bhachura, which was released in October. The world opened up . . .
AK: Which year?
VH: We started work on Bhachura in august 2016.
AK: But it is the allegation of time lag in delivering paid-for work, as in the Stunner allegation. Why does it take time to complete projects, if at all?
VH: It takes 20 hours to shoot a music video. Editing (takes) usually two weeks. That is if you want something done properly. I have shot 16 music videos in five-and-half months because of the demand for my work. I did most of these on my own — the scripting, shooting, directing, editing and colour grading. It is a great ask. But it is not about the “delays”. It is about people’s expectations.
AK: Qualify insanely successful.
VH: People will always talk. I am not moved. Bhachura was the first low-budget internet sensation in a long time.
The video penetrated most regional TV stations and opened a lot of doors for ExQ, Ammara and myself. I got people believing in local productions, especially at a time when Jah Prayzah was changing the landscape in terms of videos. Bhachura was released on the same day as Mdhara Vachauya, which was by far the biggest song in recent times. Yet the videos were neck and neck in views.
AK: What has been the impact of your work in number terms and can you qualify the lots of doors part?
VH: Bookings flying in for all of us.
AK: Give an example of bookings, just to contextualise.
VH: Millions of views. Television stations taking a particular interest in our work.
AK: For which of your videos?
VH: Basically every video I have done since Bhachura. Maybe he can tell you more for his part.
AK: What is the importance of visual representation for artistes?
VH: Videos have become a key ingredient in packaging an artiste. Without visuals you are invisible. The internet has so much content that it becomes an uphill task to stand out. So the task is to stand out by creating high quality and entertaining visual content. Videos online have become a source of revenue as well. A quick chat with Diamond Platinumz taught me that it is important to have stunning visual content with millions of views. That adds to your profile, since the internet brings people together. The better the visuals, the more highly one is perceived to be successful. That scenario is also likely to connect one with other “big” artistes for collaborations. Also, the artiste gets paid by YouTube or Vevo for the views you get.
AK: You appear to be in a powerful place to help make an artiste. What is the feeling like?
VH: While other people’s work has had to go through intensive scrutiny to be on playlists, mine has always been readily accepted and requested even. I will not mention a particular TV station.
AK: How do you select which artistes to work on and how much do you charge per video?
VH: My charges are based on the script of the song and I approach each project with the same intention, which is to add value. I have felt a deep sense of satisfaction because music is my passion and I love to see artistes succeed. I work with only those that want to work with me. I do not discriminate.
AK: How much does a good video cost to make?
VH: Good as in production values? That depends on how far the artiste and director want to take it. The bigger the purse, the better the product. The director can afford to hire the best in terms of his team and properties.
AK: What could corporates do to come to the party? For example we see international brands doing product placement.
It would help if we have corporate buy-in. However, we understand that we need to create a success story first. And of course, we need to package brand Zimbabwe for the outside world to believe in us. Corporates are concerned with return on investment and I think there is a lot to be gained in investing in music. Having a success story (e.g Jah Prayzah) paints the country in positive light to the outside world. That could lead to more companies wanting to invest in the country.
AK: Do you feel marketing managers are clued up on this?
VH: Corporates need to learn and study the ins and outs of the industry. Once they do that, they will realise there is a lot to be gained from investing in arts.
AK: Have you made money from this hustle?
VH: Not really. The profit margins are small.
AK: How you feel about your Bulawayo Arts Awards nomination in the outstanding video category?
VH: I feel honoured to be a part of this historic event, this one being the first of its kind. It really ties in well with my profile, seeing that l have also had a couple of historic projects, with more definitely coming.Watch the space. I am really humbled and grateful to the organisers and all those that are voting. To say thank you would be an understatement, but anyway, thank you so much.